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Coronavirus Vaccine Clinics Underway At Colorado's Nursing Homes Amid Thousands of Infections

sheila haddox caseys pond.jpg
Courtesy Casey's Pond
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Casey's Pond
Sheila Haddox, a resident at Casey's Pond in Steamboat Springs, received the first of two COVID-19 vaccine doses on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.

As COVID-19 vaccines rolled out for residents in long-term care, almost 300 of Colorado’s facilities were contending with active outbreaks involving more than 9,000 infections.

CVS Health confirmed that much-anticipated efforts to vaccinate an estimated 58,800 long-term care residents got underway Monday, Dec. 28. It’s the next piece in what state officials dub “Phase 1,” a rollout that began on Dec. 14 with the vaccinations of frontline health workers including those at UC Health Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

Those who have been vaccinated are not yet protected from the virus — that won’t happen until a booster shot is administered. Both of the federally-approved vaccines — one from Pfizer-BioNTech, the other from Moderna — require a second shot three to four weeks after an initial dose.

Federal officials selected CVS and Walgreens to conduct vaccination clinics at long-term care facilities because of their national scale and experience with vaccination programs in local markets. Nursing, combined care and assisted-living residents are among those considered by health officials at the highest risk for a bad outcome if infected with the virus.

“The clinics in Colorado will take about 12 weeks to run their course,” CVS Health spokesperson Courtney Tavener said.

“CVS pharmacy teams will make three visits to each long-term care facility to ensure residents and staff receive their initial shot and critical booster,” she said. “The majority of residents and staff will be fully vaccinated three to four weeks after the first visit, depending on which vaccine they receive.”

In Steamboat Springs, 82 residents and more than 44 workers at Casey’s Pond received vaccines today in an effort coordinated by Routt County health officials and Walgreens.

“Today marks a new beginning for our community,” said the senior care center’s director, Brad Boatwright, in a statement. “We are not out the woods yet, but we can see the clearing and the dawning of a brighter day.”

But another long-term care facility administrator, speaking to KUNC on the condition of anonymity, called the 12-week rollout too long. The administrator said their nursing home won’t receive its first doses of the vaccine until mid-January, meaning boosters won’t be administered until February.

“We can’t keep going on like this,” the administrator said. “Our residents are isolated and dying alone. Every day is a new struggle with new positives (infections) and heartbreak. People don’t understand how bad we are struggling because our doors have been closed since March.”

Long-term care facilities have been especially hard hit by the virus. Current state data show active outbreaks at 297 nursing, combined care, and assisted living facilities across the state. In those facilities, 5,144 residents are confirmed COVID-19 cases along with 4,157 workers. More than 570 residents have died.

Overall, of the 3,605 deaths due to COVID-19 in Colorado, about 45% were nursing, combined care and assisted living facilities residents.

Doug Farmer, the president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association, which represents nursing and assisted care facilities, said long-term care facilities have struggled for months. The arrival of vaccines, he said, are a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I wouldn't call it the end of the tunnel yet, but it's a glimmer of hope,” Farmer added.

Bob Murphy, the state director for AARP. Colorado, said the state’s long-term care facilities have followed a sad national trend throughout the pandemic.

“The statistics are absolutely tragic,” he said. “110,000 people who either live or work in nursing homes have died nationally.”

Murphy added that although vaccines are rolling out, nothing’s really changed. Residents won’t be fully vaccinated for months. Meanwhile, new infections keep appearing.

“We show a dramatic increase in nursing home resident cases over the last month,” Murphy noted.

“The spread of the virus in the broader community remains a driver for infections in long-term care facilities,” he added. “The virus finds its way into facilities despite precautions, including screenings for workers. “

One reason for that is workers live in the community where they are at risk for getting the virus. Some can be asymptomatic, meaning they show no signs of having the virus, unwittingly infecting the patients they care for.

Under a separate program led by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, long-term residents in Colorado’s homes for military veterans began to receive vaccinations the week of Dec. 21.